Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chicken Sautéed with Mushrooms and Cream: Inexpensive Elegance

Boneless, skinless chicken breast is often on sale at the supermarket. That's the time to buy two portions, freeze one for future use and make something elegant from the other.

In the past several years, a lot of chicken is injected with "up to 15% natural broth." The stated reason for this is to make the meat juicier and more tender. Clearly, it's a way of selling water for the price of chicken. I look for chicken without injected broth.

Chicken breast, when cut up, lends itself to sautéing, a more colorful term than might be suspected. "Sauter" [so-TAY] in French, the language of the kitchen, means (in its less vulgar usage) to jump, as a frog might. "Faire sauter" (make [something] jump) is culinary French for frying quickly in oil or butter while stirring or shaking the pan so the pieces of meat or vegetable jump about. "Sauté" is the past participle of the verb, and is what we use in English.

Here's a simple French method for sautéeing chicken with mushrooms and cream that is as elegantly tasty as it is easy. Actually, the method is similar to that used to prepare several veal dishes in Italy and Switzerland (such as émincé de veau zurichoise), and even Russian "beef stroganoff." Thin strips of chicken are marinated briefly in brandy or white wine and seasonings, quickly fried with mushrooms and finished with sour cream or cream.

The recipe serves six with buttered noodles, steamed potatoes, or toast points. Or the chicken can be spooned into baked puff pastry nests for an elegant luncheon. A flavorful dry or nearly dry white wine, such as a oak-barreled Chardonnnay or a Riesling, would go well with this.

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
3 tablespoons brandy or white wine
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1-3/8 teaspoons salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Large pinch of thyme or oregano, crumbled between the fingers
1/2 pound mushrooms
1 medium shallot or 1 very small onion
1 medium-sized clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons sour cream or heavy cream
Minced parsley for garnish

Trim away fat or tough parts from chicken. Slice meat crosswise into strips 1/4-inch thick. Cut in half strips that are more than 2-inches long. Mix chicken with brandy or wine, cornstarch, 1 teaspoon of salt, the nutmeg, pepper, and thyme or oregano. Marinate at least 10 minutes. Rinse mushrooms. Trim off bottom 1/8 inch of stems. Halve mushrooms or, if large, slice 1/2-inch thick. Finely mince shallot or onion and garlic.

Ten minutes before serving, heat a large non-stick frying pan to medium high. Add 1 tablespoon each of oil and butter, shallot or onion, and garlic. Stir and fry until shallot is translucent but not browned (1 to 1-1/2 minutes). Add marinated chicken. Stir and fry just until uncooked color is gone (2 to 3 minutes). Spoon chicken out to a bowl, keeping juices in pan.

Add another tablespoon each of oil and butter to the pan. Add mushrooms plus 3/8 teaspoon of salt. Quickly stir and fry mushrooms, sprinkling with a little water, if necessary, to keep them from sticking to pan. As soon as mushrooms darken and start to look cooked (1 to 2 minutes), return pre-fried chicken to pan. Heat, stirring, until juices bubble. Stir in sour cream or cream. Bring mixture just back to a bubble. Remove from heat. Taste sauce, and add a little salt, if necessary.

Serve with toast points, buttered noodles, buttered steamed potatoes, or in puff pastry shells. Dust with minced parsley.

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